David Steinberg: Erotic Photographer of the Year
“What is most important to me about sex,” says David Steinberg, who has just been named Erotic Photographer of the Year by Erotic Awards 2010, “both in my personal life and politically, has to do with intimacy and a level of breaking down barriers between people that sex makes possible.”
The Erotic Awards, directed by Dr. Tuppy Owens and run by the UK-based Leydig Trust, was established in 1994 in order to “honor the stars in the erotic universe” and to raise money for Outsiders, an international charity that provides support to people with disabilities. The annual awards ceremony is held in London as part of the Night of the Senses, a gala ball that has been celebrating all things sexual and sensual for the past 23 years.
“So many [people] work in isolation, get trashed by the media, and have difficulty talking about their work when socializing,” says Dr. Owens. “My aim is to bring the stars together so they can network. … More and more, the Erotic Awards have become a political force, with our politicians, academics, campaigners, and indeed photographers influencing thought towards sexual understanding, tolerance and freedom for all.
“David won because his work portrays ‘real’ sex and photographers seem so intent on portraying fantasy that we thought this really special and unique,” she adds. “Also important to us was the fact that David includes all kinds of people, including older people and physically disabled people.”
A busy man, David, who lives in San Francisco and only began taking photographs in 1999, was participating in the Seattle Erotic Art Festival when he found out that he had won. So how did he feel when he heard the good news?
“I was really thrilled,” he says. “To be recognized by peers, meaning people who share my values around sex positivity, around sex promotion, and the whole project of overcoming shame and guilt and putting sex in a positive light … is great.”
These days, David mostly concentrates on photographing couples while they’re having sex. The couples come in all different shapes, sizes, abilities and ages, all with different sexual proclivities and preferences and ways of relating to each other. However, as Dr. Owens and the other judges recognized, David does something very unique with his photographs, making strong political and sexual statements through an inspiring mixture of subtlety, understanding, and awe.
So what does David say about his photography?
“I think what I’m skilled at is helping people feel comfortable in the circumstance of being photographed while they’re being sexual,” he says. “I put a big priority on developing personal rapport with the people I’m photographing. I [also] photograph people at home … and I don’t pose people, I don’t tell people what to do. That generates a different group of photographs than would happen otherwise.
“There is an emotional spark and quality in my photographs, whether it’s passionate intensity or quiet intimacy … there’s an emotionality in my photos … Part of that is having the rapport with people that I’m photographing that allows them to be relaxed and spontaneous and go into a deeper sexual place with each other in front of my camera.”
The photos, however, are not determined solely by what is happening in front of the camera. They are also shaped by the photographer, who decides when to push the button and take the picture. The exact moment when photographers decide to do this, David argues, depends on who they are, what they see and what is important to them—all different things for different people.
“In a way, the photographs are statements about the couples, the subjects, and in a way the photographs are statements about the photographer,” he says.
Although his photographs are deeply personal and intimate, they are also political, and David, who is also a writer, views his work in a larger social context.
“I got into the whole sex field [through] writing about sex politically. I became convinced that control of sexuality and repression of sexuality was a major underlying societal dynamic and that radical social change could not happen unless those kinds of issues were addressed.
“How we view sex and how we view ourselves as sexual people is affected very strongly by the imagery that we see about sex around us, and because pornography is 99%of the sexual imagery people see, it affects how everybody thinks about themselves and thinks about sex. So, if some of us feel like that’s not the only thing about sex, I think it’s important to put out a different kind of imagery.
“I’m not in the business of telling people what they should and shouldn’t do with their sexuality but I have a desire to make a statement to people which says the intimacy, the vulnerability, the loss of control, the transcendental things that can happen for people in the course of very powerful sexual experiences [is amazing].
“We live in a culture that’s ready to tell just about everybody—even the glamorous people—that they’re not okay, not desirable, not sexy. [I hope] people will look at [my] photos and instead of saying, ‘I would be a hot number sexually if I was 10 years younger, 10 pounds lighter, if my boobs were bigger, if my cock was bigger, if my waist was smaller’ [they could say], ‘Oh look, here’s a person sort of like me and look at that, they’re amazing, they’re beautiful, they’re hot, they’re sexy.’ Then there’s a little bit more peace and self-acceptance in the world.”
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